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The Scarlet & Black

Off-campus housing not available

By Alice Thornewill

Returning to Grinnell after a leave of absence or a semester abroad can be stressful. Students have to face a dining hall filled with unfamiliar faces, the realization that they have to do real homework again and the inevitably of eating an outtake. This year, many returning students also had to deal with unexpected changes to their housing plans.

The Residence Life Committee denied almost all returning Grinnellians necessary permission to live off-campus.

Most of the students who applied for permission to live off-campus had already signed leases and had not expected to be prohibited from living off campus. The administration tries to keep the residence halls approximately 95 percent full.

“If we had granted permission to all those who asked, we would have been less than 90 percent full,” Conner said. “It’s a revenue-based decision. We are a residential campus.”

Andrea Conner and the Residence Life Committee anticipated that under-enrollment might be an issue based on the large size of the junior class and the percentage of students going abroad.

“In the past, we usually granted permission to approximately 200 students for the fall, but based on our predictions we only granted permission to 175 this year,” she said. Even so, returning study abroad students were needed to fill the dorms.

Mario Salazar ’11 was hoping to live off-campus for economic reasons and was surprised that his appeal was ineffective. “My main reason to live off-campus was to save money. I could have graduated without debt,” he said.

Salazar, who is 23 years old, should have automatically been granted permission based on his age, but he overlooked the policy, and the Residence Life Committee hopes to avoid this mistake in the future.

“We will be more deliberate and explicit about stating the four automatic conditions to be granted off campus approval during the process,” Conner said. “The online form to request off-campus approval for 2011-2012 has been edited to include an opportunity to alert us that a student meets one of those automatic approvals.”

Of the 29 students who requested permission to live off-campus for the spring semester, four were approved due to age or accommodation, six lived in the dorms in the fall and three had been on leaves of absences.

Conner stressed that not all of the remaining 16 applicants, all of whom had been abroad, were upset. “Of the 16 people, five didn’t even appeal and were totally okay with it,” she said.

The remaining 11 students appealed Resident Life’s decision, but all were denied.

“For the last two months of the semester Travis and I met every Friday about spring off-campus requests and reviewed the appeals and tried to make good, thoughtful decisions,” Conner said. “There were so many people with a similar situation that I didn’t have a solitary exception I could argue for. I knew I would not succeed with arguing for all 11.”

Many students remain displeased with the way the administration handled their living situation.
“I understand the need to fill the dorms, but what really bothers me about this situation is that I went into their offices last spring, told them that I knew the official policy, but asked if they thought it would be okay to sign a lease, and they said that I shouldn’t have any problems and that I should go ahead and sign it,” said Jayme Wiebold ’12.

Conner recognizes the complexity of the housing situation.

“Literally, up until this last year we always were able to approve any students that requested permission to live off campus,” she said. “That’s part of why this is so painful. People have precedents because they could look at what their friends did in the past.”

Glass thought living off-campus would improve her overall well-being.

“Grinnell is supposed to be all about the personal growth of the individual and I thought it would be better for my mental state to live in this house,” she said. “I wrote that in my appeal and they didn’t directly address it.”

Like a few others in similar situations, Glass chose to pay for her room on campus, but still lives in and pays for off-campus housing.

The housing process could still use some improvement, according to Glass.

“The whole policy has to be changed because it doesn’t make sense. If you want to have a house you have to sign a lease really early.”

Salazar and Glass also found it difficult dealing with their housing dilemmas from another continent.

“I couldn’t register for classes because I had this unexpected hold and I was trying to talk to 10 offices at the same time from France,” Salazar said. “It was so stressful.”

Students also complained about the lack of response from the administration.

“I remember I sent an email to the Dean of Residence Life about final decisions on whether they were denying off-campus requests, and it took her a full month to respond to me,” Wiebold said. “So not only did they really screw things up, they took forever to do so, which made it really hard for us to figure out our own situations, as far as subletters and everything.”

Most students have now worked out their housing arrangements. Some decided to pay for both college dorms and off-campus housings, and others broke their leases without heavy fines.

For the most part, the students have accepted their fate, but with some lingering laments.

Salazar said, “I was really looking forward to cook breakfasts at home.”

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  • D

    DanFeb 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm


    I don’t see the connection between anything you said and the article.

    It’s not that students have some unreasonable expectation for some new crazy norm like a “Macmansion” or that every “desire has become a necessity and a basic human right and paid for with credit cards and debt from the individual to the federal government.” It’s that students expect the administration to be honest with them.

    I understand that the school has to be fiscally responsible and might not be able to let students live off campus. That’s legit. What’s not legit is for the dean of students office to give out misleading information by telling students to go ahead and sign a lease, then all of a sudden change their mind. What’s also not legit is for them to ignore emails for students asking for information for a month.

  • G

    Glen PeifferFeb 8, 2011 at 4:09 am

    The homes that people were proud to own in the 1950’s and 60’s would not even be considered by home buyers today. The MacMasion has become the new norm which illustrates the out of focus expectations of our society where every desire has become a necessity and a basic human right and paid for with credit cards and debt from the individual to the federal government. When reality meets distorted expectations there is going to be a real awakening. Life works that way. We all learn, eventually, as to what really matters. Some get it others never do. The lesson may be as simple as dealing with adversity or far more complex.

  • J

    JoseyFeb 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Grinnell is not Columbia, and nonetheless, we expect better planning — if for no other reason, out of courtesy. Good point on Norris — that was the plan, but more poor planning?

  • G

    Glen Peiffer '72Feb 5, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Grinnell College students need to see the off campus housing and graduate student housing at Columbia University in Harlem! The buildings are pre-war slum tenements with the paint peeling (they have not been painted in over 50 years) cockroaches and no hot water or heat half the time! Cheer Up!

    NY Times article, “Back to Iowa, Leaving a City in His Bones.”

  • M

    Mary '02Feb 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

    A little background for the sake of institutional memory: 10+ years ago, when Osgood revealed the Campus Master Plan that involved building the four new dorms of East Campus, the Plan included tearing down Norris Hall — slated for 2004 or so. Everyone cheered. The Norris community that’s built in the face of adversity is an amazing thing, but that building was a craphole 10 years ago, and I cannot imagine how much worse it must be now. Maybe if Osgood had stuck to his word (and how many times has that phrase been uttered?), Student Affairs wouldn’t be in this mess now. Seems like they’ve got a little supply and demand problem on their hands. I’m sorry to hear they’ve chosen to deal with it in this way.

  • T

    TomJan 30, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    What a shame…and sham. Frustrating to see such poor planning and weak communications from the very people (Dougherty, Green, and Conner) who are paid handsomely to guide and shepherd students in these exact matters. Don’t forget this one on the next housing satisfaction survey we’re sent, as the outcome here is not satisfactory!

  • D

    danJan 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

    This is yet another example of how Student Affair is completely out of touch with the student body. While the college’s decision may have been necessary, students deserve more respect than to have an important email completely ignored for over a month.

    The Student Affairs office is dishonest, either by incompetence or disregard for students, as it ignored its guidance to Jayme.

    We need administrators that are honest, are communicative, and willing to at the very least acknowledge circumstances that makes them unable to be honest and communicative. In one of my political science classes, a professor remarked that the most serious mistakes organizations make happen because they are unwilling to admit that they don’t know something. It seems like Dean Greene has the hubris to believe that his office can tell a student one thing one day, then completely go back on its promise the next. This isn’t a unique oversight. Just as his office implied one housing policy then enforced a different one, we see how they imply a self-governance, tolerant attitude then call the police on students allegedly smoking marijuana. Grinnell needs to remove certain officers of student affairs so it can live up to its core value of “personal, egalitarian, and respectful interactions among all members of the college community.”